Saturday, 25 August 2012

The Best Of Girl Groups - part 1: 20 to 11

JUMP TO: Part 1 II Part 2 II Part 3

Last week, I counted down my top 20 boy bands, so it seemed only logical to do the same thing with my favourite girl groups - and I'll approach things in a similar format. We'll go through my top 20 in two parts, with the positions based on how much I've liked the groups' catalogue of singles. Then, in the third part, I'll look at my top 5 female duos (because two people's not really a group, is it?) and remember some other worthy girl groups.

Possibly the only time Diana Ross bent over backwards for her fellow Supremes

And while girl groups have pretty much been around since the dawn of the rock era (unlike the modern boy band), I'll be limiting my list to girl groups since 1979. Why? Well, regular readers will know that's when I first began to appreciate music so, like all things on this blog, that's my starting point.

Obviously, the likes of The Supremes, Martha & The Vandellas and The Shirelles are all great girl groups from before my time, but I'll leave it to someone else to talk about them. Oh, and once again, there'll be a no instruments policy, which rules out The Go-Go's and The Bangles, both excellent all-female bands. Let's make a start...

20. Precious

Members: Kalli Clark-Sternberg, Jenny Frost, Anya Lahiri, Sophie McDonnell, Louise Rose
Years (releasing music): 1999-2000
Top 3 best songs: "Rewind", "New Beginning", "Say It Again"

Featuring future Atomic Kitten member Jenny Frost, Precious came to fame after competing in 1999's Eurovision Song Contest for the UK. Their song, "Say It Again", finished 12th that year, but would go top 10 at home, and in 2000, the Britney Spears sound-alike "Rewind" would almost do the same, but two singles later, it was all over.
Jenny had the most success post-Precious, as we'll see when we get to Atomic Kitten, but she was really only there to make up numbers.

19. Sweet Sensation

Members: Margie Fernandez, Mari Fernandez/Sheila Vega, Betty LeBron
Years: 1987-1991
Top 3 best songs: "Love Child", "Hooked On You", "Each And Every Time"

Or New York's Sweet Sensation to give them their full name. The freestyle trio would have a string of club hits from their debut album, Take It While It's Hot, in 1988-89 but it would be their cover of The Supremes' "Love Child" (which features a great "there's something on my leg" dance move in the video) and monster ballad "If Wishes Came True" which would see them cross over in 1990, the latter even becoming a minor hit here in Australia thanks to American Top 40 play.
Like many a girl group, Sweet Sensation would undergo numerous line-up changes (the original version of the group is pictured above), but it's the trio of Margie, Sheila and Betty (who feature in the clip below) who would enjoy the most success.

18. Sister Sledge

Members: Debbie, Joni, Kathy and Kim Sledge
Years: 1971-1986
Top 3 best songs: "We Are Family", "He's The Greatest Dancer", "Got To Love Somebody"

They started their career in the early '70s, but it was during the disco era that the four Sledge sisters (nothing like a literal group name) hit the big time, with a string of classics like "Lost In Music", "Thinking Of You" and "We Are Family", which would then go on to be regularly remixed and re-released over the next decades.
Then, in 1985, just when it seemed like the group's fortunes were winding down, they returned with one of their biggest singles of all time: "Frankie". That was their last new hit, but they still perform and release music from time to time.


17. Bardot

Members: Belinda Chapple, Sophie Monk, Sally Polihronas, Katie Underwood, Tiffany Wood
Years: 2000-2002
Top 3 best songs: "These Days", "Love Will Find A Way", "I Need Somebody"

Before Australian Idol, The X Factor or The Voice, there was Popstars - and in the first season of the groundbreaking reality series, Bardot was created, and then rejigged when original member Chantelle Barry was kicked out amid accusations of theft. The final line-up shot straight to number 1 with both "Poison" and their self-titled debut album, but, such was the fervour surrounding the show, just about anything would have sold by the truckload.
By their third single, "These Days", their music started to sell on the strength of the songs themselves and the trio of well-received singles they released from second album Play It Like That suggested they had a bright future on the pop scene. But, wouldn't you know it, the girls wanted solo careers.
Katie was first to jump ship, leaving on the eve of the release of "ASAP" for a new production of Hair which never eventuated and recorded two singles with Disco Montego. After the remaining foursome parted ways, Sophie Monk went on to be most successful - releasing a couple of solo hit singles and finding a degree of fame in the US (and was Benji Madden's fiancĂ©e for a time), but to my mind Bardot could have gone on to bigger and better things if they'd stuck together just a little bit longer.

16. All Saints

Members: Natalie Appleton, Nicole Appleton, Melanie Blatt, Shaznay Lewis
Years: 1997-2001, 2006-2007
Top 3 best songs: "Pure Shores", "I Know Where It's At", "Never Ever"

Here's another group who really should have stayed together for at least one more album at the height of their success. By the time they did reunite for 2006's Studio 1, it was too little, too late. But at the turn of the millennium, there was no cooler girl group than All Saints. With their moody demeanour and uniform of cargo pants and tiny tees in sharp contrast to Spice Girls' flashy outfits and cheesy nicknames, All Saints even managed to cover a Red Hot Chili Peppers song without too much kerfuffle.
The inevitable solo careers eventuated (well, the Appleton sisters actually stuck together and enjoyed the most success with songs like "Fantasy" and "Don't Worry"), but none of the group's side projects would be anywhere near as big as their initial four-year period of chart domination together.

15. Solid HarmoniE

Members: Elisa Cariera, Mariama Goodman, Melissa Graham, Rebecca Onslow
Years: 1996-1998
Top 3 best songs: "I'll Be There For You", "I Want You To Want Me", "I Wanna Love You"

I never realised it at the time, but this girl group had a rather complicated revolving door-style line-up. In fact, I didn't really know anything at all about Solid HarmoniE other than the fact that the capital letters in their band name spelt SHE (clever!) and they worked with pop maestro Max Martin (and his colleague, Kristian Lundin, at Cheiron).
And it's the Swedish songwriting/production team's work that really explains why Solid HarmoniE are so high on my list - all four of the singles from their self-titled album were among my 50 favourites from 1998.
Mariama would go on to be a member of Honeyz (who would have their own member switcheroo) and there would be subsquent versions of Solid HarmoniE, but once "To Love Once Again" had been released, it was pretty much all over.

14. B*Witched

Members: Lindsay Armaou, Edele Lynch, Keavy Lynch, Sinead O'Carroll
Years: 1998-2000
Top 3 best songs: "C'est La Vie", "Rollercoaster", "Jump Down"

Despite some appalling denim outfits, this Irish quartet (featuring Shane from Boyzone's younger sisters) had an impressive run of four number 1 singles in the UK in 1998-9, but that success stopped just as suddenly as it had begun, and the girls were dumped by Sony after album number two.
I can't think of another act who've gone from such highs to such lows in such a short amount of time (but I haven't tried very hard - there are probably loads), but the demise of B*Witched can basically be attributed to one thing: "Jesse Hold On". The annoying first single from Awake And Breathe signalled the beginning of the end. And even though their final single, "Jump Down", was one of their best, it was all too late by that stage.
I once saw B*Witched play a nightclub gig in London and can still picture how much energy they put into every song, but it just goes to show that if the songs aren't right, no amount of choreography and chirpiness can salvage things.  

13. The Saturdays

Members: Una Healy, Mollie King, Frankie Sandford, Vanessa White, Rochelle Wiseman
Years: 2008-present
Top 3 best songs: "Forever Is Over", "Higher", "All Fired Up"

It's hard to gauge from the other side of the world where they are virtually unknown, but despite their 11 top 10 singles in the UK, The Saturdays don't seem to have become a phenomenon in the way Spice Girls or Girls Aloud did, and haven't landed a number 1 hit or had a massive selling album like All Saints, Sugababes or Atomic Kitten all did at different points in their careers. And yet, they don't really have a lot of competition in the girl group stakes at the moment (although recent X Factor victors Little Mix are about to change all that), so there's not a lot standing in their way.
Personally, I like quite a number of their songs (obviously, or they wouldn't be this high on my list), but I still feel like I'm waiting for their defining moment - a song that goes beyond just sounding current and having an expensive looking video and really gives me a sense of what The Saturdays are all about. Until then, they'll just be a pretty pop group with a bunch of decent songs but won't have the impact of those other groups I've mentioned.

12. En Vogue

Members (classic line-up): Terry Ellis, Cindy Herron, Maxine Jones, Dawn Robinson
Years: 1990-2005
Top 3 best songs: "Don't Let Go (Love)", "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)", "Hold On"

Here's a group who did make a statement with their music in the way The Saturdays have yet to do - and they did so in an era when R&B vocal groups were a dime a dozen. En Vogue released a string of sassy, soulful tracks that had attitude and an opinion. From the songs mentioned above to "Lies", the sexy collaboration with Salt 'n' Pepa, "Whatta Man", and the in-your-face "Free Your Mind", these ladies had something to say.
Like so many girl groups, there's been a hard-to-follow series of member manoeuvres ever since their third album, EV3 (which was named to signal the first change from four to three singers), but that was also the last album that had major success, so those subsequent changes are really footnotes to a great initial run for the group.

11. TLC

Members: Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, Rozanda "Chilli" Thomas, Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins
Years: 1992-2004
Top 3 best songs: "No Scrubs", "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg", "Hat 2 Da Back"

What a great way to end the first part of this look back at my favourite girl groups of all time (or post-1979). TLC were another American act with a really strong image and musical style. And even though that image evolved over their career - from the condoms as accessories look of Ooooooohhh... On the TLC Tip to FanMail's futuristic styling - it always felt like a natural progression and totally in keeping with the everything the group was about.
And then there were the songs - fresh, adventurous and streetwise tunes like the ones mentioned above, "Creep", "Unpretty" and "What About Your Friends". I was never a massive fan of "Waterfalls", but its cultural impact (especially the music video, which tackled the issue of HIV infection) can not be understated.
There was talk of T-Boz and Chilli using a reality show to find a replacement for the late, great Lisa "Left Eye" but I'm glad that never eventuated - instead the winner of series R U The Girl merely got to perform and record a track with the two surviving members of the group. Some things are best left as a happy memory - and there are plenty of those when it comes to TLC's back catalogue.

Who does that leave for my top 10 girl groups? I'll tell you this much: seven of them are from the UK and three come from the US (sorry, Girlfriend). See you in a couple of days to count down to number 1.


  1. I liked Precious and thought they had potential.
    All Saints were amazing and very fresh and unique with great songs.
    TLC were great too and agree totally about The Saturdays they seem to just be there without challenging themselves or providing that signature hit.
    B*Witched like you say were good for one album but just ok overall.
    Vocally out of the list En Vogue are superior but their songs bar 'Don't Let Go' never interested me.

    1. My other issue with The Saturdays is that they seem to jump from style to style, whereas I feel like there was a Girls Aloud sound that was distinctly them (well, their producers).